Commerce, Culture, and Race

“Commerce, Culture, and Race: the U.S.-China Subnational Relations, 1842-2021”

Hilton Union Square, Union Square 19&20

Chair: Mao Lin, Georgia Southern University


The China–US Tea Trade after the Opium War, 1842–1911

Dan Du, University of North Carolina at Charlotte

For God, Gold, and Glory: Iowans in China

Tao Wang, Iowa State University

Massacre, Reciprocity, and Indemnity: Sino-American Negotiations over the 1885 Rock Springs Massacre in Wyoming

Yuanchong Wang, University of Delaware

US–China Relations and Racism against Asians

Guolin Yi, Providence College

Comment: Mao Lin, Georgia Southern University

Panel Abstract

While the U.S.-China relations have become so essential, and controversial, to our own times, this panel examines the two nations’ collaborations and confrontations in transnational commerce, missionary activities, diplomatic negotiations, and media coverage from the mid-nineteenth century to present day, thus enhancing historical understanding of their rocky yet interdependent relations. After all, history rarely repeats itself, but it often rhymes.

Dan Du and Tao Wang examine the close connections between the two nations. Du illustrates their interlinking development through the lens of the China-U.S. tea trade after the Opium War. The United States was the second largest importer of Chinese tea. Americans’ peculiar taste for green and Oolong tea, China’s treaty system, and the U.S. adoption of the Gold Standard intertwined, determining the vicissitudes of China’s global tea trade. Wang illuminates the often-neglected engagement between Iowa, the rural midwestern U.S. state, and China through the experiences of an Iowan missionary, an ambassador, and an engineer, thus presenting the three foci of the early U.S. policy toward China—missionary idealism, diplomatic pragmatism, and commercial interests.

Yuanchong Wang and Guolin Yi investigate the clashes between Americans and Chinese in the United States. Highlighting the 1885 Rock Springs Massacre in another U.S. western state, Wyoming, Wang reconstructs the anti-Chinese riot to elaborate how Zheng Zaoru, Chinese Minister to the United States, and Thomas Bayard, U.S. Secretary of State, employed the international law and indemnity policies to orchestrate their diplomatic negotiations. Focusing on the anti-Asian sentiment in more recent history, Yi revisits the anti-Asian hatred by showing how American media’s coverage of the Sino-American relations affected public perceptions of Asians and contributed to their hostilities toward Asians during three key historical moments: Korean War, Vietnam War, and the Trade War under the Trump administration. 

Paper Abstracts

Dan Du, “The China-U.S. Tea Trade after the Opium War, 1842-1911”

Through the lens of the tea trade, this research reveals the interlinking but divergent paths of development between China and the United States in the nineteenth century. Previous research usually emphasizes the British dominance in the tea trade with China, whereas this paper highlights the significance of the China-U.S. tea trade in the second half of the nineteenth century. The United States had been the second largest importer of tea from China since the late eighteenth century, second only to Great Britain. After the abolition of the Canton Trade System and more “Treaty Ports” were open to foreign merchants after the Opium War, Americans’ distinctive taste for tea intertwined with the Treaty Ports System to reshape the landscape of China’s tea trade beyond Canton. While British traders controlled the black tea trade, Americans were the most important buyer of Chinese green and Oolong tea in the newly opened ports throughout the nineteenth century. The decline of the tea trade with America thus posed a heavy blow to the Chinese economy, which had suffered heavily from the weakened tea business with Britain. Moreover, the U.S. adoption of the Gold Standard during the Long Depression of 1873-1898 reduced the profitability and accelerated the decline of China’s global tea trade. American tea merchants diverted their capital away from China and invested in domestic industries, whereas Chinese merchants struggled with heavy taxes and fierce competition from Japan and British colonies.

Tao Wang, “For God, Gold, and Glory: Iowans in China”

This presentation examines the early connections between Iowa and China. It studies the experiences of three groups of Iowans who lived in China from the late nineteenth century to the beginning of the twentieth century. Eva and Fredrick Price, a missionary couple from Des Moines, worked in Shanxi from 1889 through their deaths in the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. Edwin Conger (and his wife Sarah Conger), also from Des Moines, was the United States minister to China from 1898 to 1905. Herbert Hoover, born in West Branch, Iowa, worked as a mine engineer and manager in Tianjin from 1899 to 1902. These individuals represented three aspects of early US policy toward China: missionary idealism, diplomatic pragmatism, and commercial interests.

Using primary sources, such as journals and letters by Eva Price and Sarah Conger, diplomatic documents from the Department of State and the Hoover Presidential Library, as well as secondary works, this study tries to accomplish a two-fold goal: it reveals the long, yet neglected, history of the engagement between the rural midwestern state with the remote, populous country on the other side of the Earth; and it demonstrates the themes of early US-China encounters in an era of Western “scramble for China” and American expansion into Asia.

Yuanchong Wang, “Massacre, Reciprocity, and Indemnity: Sino-American Negotiations over the 1885 Rock Springs Massacre in Wyoming”

On September 2, 1885, twenty-eight Chinese laborers of the Pacific Union Railway working in Rock Springs in Wyoming Territory were attacked and killed by white laborers who further burned and looted Chinatown. While the governor of Wyoming and the US Army rushed to Rock Springs to maintain the order, the Chinese minister to the US Zheng Zaoru instructed the Chinese consul at San Francisco, F. A. Bee, and the consul at New York, Huang Xiquan, to co-investigate the massacre in Rock Springs. Soon Zheng intensively negotiated the case with Secretary of State Thomas Bayard for prosecuting the white rioters and paying the victims indemnity. Bayard’s two predecessors’ no-indemnity policy toward the 1880 anti-Chinese riot in Denver forced Zheng to use the reciprocity principle of international law that was included in Sino-American treaties of 1844, 1858, 1868, and 1880 to indicate that China would not pay American victims any indemnity in similar cases if justice was not brought to the victims of Rock Springs. Zheng’s strategy and the pressure of American domestic public opinion forced Bayard to pay the indemnity in 1886, which made the Rock Springs Massacre the only case in the nineteenth century in which the Chinese victims of hate crime received indemnity from the US government. No rioters, however, were prosecuted in the era when the Chinese Exclusion Act was effective and anti-Chinese resentment was prevalent. This paper examines the diplomatic negotiations between Zheng and Bayard with the aim of revealing the multi-layered nature of the reconstruction of the massacre respectively on the Chinese and American sides.

Guolin Yi, “US-China Relations and Racism Against Asians”

This paper studies how the American media’s coverage of Sino-American relations has contributed to the anti-Asian sentiment in the United States during the key events of Sino-American relations: Korean War, Vietnam War, and the Trade War under the Trump administration. While other scholars study anti-Asian hatred from the perspectives of race and immigration, I look at it from the perspective of Sino-American relations. I look at how the US policy toward China and the media’s coverage, which can be a subjective process, have affected the public perception of Asians. Specifically, I examine four major components: US policy toward China seen through the rhetoric of American officials; Chinese policy toward the U.S.; US media’s coverage of Washington’s policy; and Rhetoric of the Chinese media. By looking at the media perception between China and the United States at different periods, this paper tries to map out the evolution of anti-Asian sentiment in the U.S. from the perspective of foreign relations.